Ramzi Kassem, al-Qahtani’s attorney, declared: “After two decades without trial in U.S. custody, Mohammed will now receive the psychiatric care he has long needed in Saudi Arabia, with the support of his family. “Keeping him at Guantanamo, where he was tortured, and then repeatedly attempted suicide, would have been a likely death sentence.”
The Department of Defense announced that “on June 9, 2021, the Periodic Review Board process determined that law of war detention of Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani was no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the national security of the United States. Therefore, the PRB recommended that al-Qahtani be repatriated to his native country of Saudi Arabia, subject to security and humane treatment assurances.” The freeing of al-Qahtani, according to the DoD, was part of a “process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population and ultimately closing of [sic] the Guantanamo Bay facility.”
Al-Qahtani has been in custody since December 2001, when he was captured in Afghanistan fighting against American forces. Not long before that, on Aug. 3, 2001, he arrived in Orlando, Fla. on a flight from Dubai but was refused entry and sent back on suspicions that he was trying to settle in the U.S. illegally. 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta was waiting at the Orlando airport to pick him up, leading to speculation that he planned to participate in the 9/11 hijackings.
Holding al-Qahtani in Gitmo for twenty years without trial stemmed from the fact that he was being treated as a prisoner of war. In past wars also, soldiers who became prisoners of war were generally not tried; they were held until the end of hostilities and then released. But the “war on terror” did not have any definable endpoint, so there was no endpoint for the jihadis in Guantanamo. Some jihadis actually were tried, and others are still awaiting trial, because despite calling it a “war,” the U.S. government still persisted in treating each act of jihad as if it were a separate and discrete criminal act, without any relationship to any larger conflict. Also, not being able to tie people such as al-Qahtani to any specific crime meant they would have to be tried, if they were tried at all, simply for membership in the Taliban or al-Qaeda, and that would be an easy case to lose in the absence of any evidence of actual criminal activity.
All this stemmed from the U.S. government’s refusal to study the concept of jihad and make a concerted effort to devise a strategy to counter it. Our response to the jihad attacks on 9/11 was unfocused, wrongly directed, and self-contradictory. It was a war, but it wasn’t. It was an action against criminals, but it wasn’t. It was designed to stop jihadis, but it wasn’t. The whole thing was mishandled from the beginning in every conceivable way, with an unfathomable loss of life and resources, to no good purpose.
And now al-Qahtani will be undergoing “treatment of mental illness,” which he may well need, but ascribing jihad activity to “mental illness” has become a favorite dodge for authorities who don’t want to face up to the fact that some Muslims act upon the Qur’an’s teachings exhorting warfare against unbelievers. Maybe al-Qahtani is legitimately mentally ill and, after treatment, will retire to a quiet life in Saudi Arabia and never be heard from again. Or alternatively, he could return to the jihad, as have all too many former Guantánamo detainees.
There are numerous recent examples of this. A Taliban leader inside the presidential palace in Kabul in August 2021 announced: “I was detained in Guantánamo Bay camp for several years.” The five jihadis Barack Obama freed from Gitmo in exchange for deserter Bowe Bergdahl ended up representing the Taliban at peace talks with American negotiators. The New York Times reported in November 2019 that “the United States government on Thursday offered a $4 million reward for information on the whereabouts of a Sudanese man who was convicted of war crimes at Guantánamo, was repatriated in 2012 and is suspected of recruiting for Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.”
Will the U.S. be offering a reward for al-Qahtani a few years from now, after he has taken up the cause of Allah on another battlefield? Possibly. Biden’s handlers didn’t release him with any safeguards in place to preclude that possibility. ✪